It sucks. Well, at first it’s okay and good because you don’t realize that people think you’re different or less than them. Then you realize that people take back their invitations for playdates because your father isn’t white, ergo your household isn’t safe. Or your siblings don’t want him going to parent-teacher conferences because the teacher might treat them differently and word will spread to the students. Then you start seeing things differently. The rejection is salient and you feel bad. You want to make things better.
You watch mass on the television with your father because he feels alienated at the church with its white congregation. You eat your food and bring it to school without hesitation or protest because 1) food is food 2) waste not want not and 3) it’s really good food, and you enjoy the taste of home. You ask questions about what life was like where you lived before because you’re too young to remember. You ask about “back home” because you know he takes comfort in having lived in a place where you didn’t get called out for “talking funny”, or having “strange food” and even though you had to leave because it was no longer safe, this new place lacks a different kind of security. You sit and you listen because that’s all you can do.
But then things can change again. People pass. People leave. You switch households. One telling you not to eat with your hands because it’s “not proper etiquette”, as if you can eat your curry and roti with a knife and fork and truly experience it. The dishes you savour and look forward to eating change because “you don’t want to smell like this at school”. Your hair gets rejected as messy while simultaneously being ridiculed for brushing/straightening out your curls because you’re tired of the commentary only to find yourself with contradictory criticisms. You start feeling insecure about your nose even though you’ve always liked it and it’s the same nose as your father’s, but now it’s “too big” and “you should consider rhinoplasty”. You’re exhausted. Your photo in the yearbook changes from a smile to a thin line because this way you won’t receive lewd comments about your lips. You try not to bring attention to yourself so that you’re not bombarded by unsolicited opinions. You grow reticent.
And somehow you get through it. You graduate. You move out. You block, delete, and phase people out. You save your hair from heat and research how to take care of it properly. You ignore the comments about “but you used to iron your hair” because the person saying it was one of the people that used to criticize you for embracing your natural form and is simply looking to provoke. You take care of your skin. You enjoy your smile. You learn the recipes you craved from childhood and create your own versions. It gets better. You move to a city renowned for being a hub for many with various cuisines to try. Things your mind pushes away come to the forefront when you try a cassava cake and it reminds you of the pone you grew up eating. You find grocery stores that have the salara you enjoyed with doubles at the register waiting to be eagerly devoured. Your friends are from different countries in different continents and they don’t think your name is weird. You find that you share the same hair products and body types. You realize that even though your family is from the Caribbean and your partner’s family is from South East Asia, many dishes overlap with flavours, ingredients, and textures. You don’t feel alone.
It’s tough but you do your best to get through it. You eat what you love. You take care of yourself because you are all you have. You make new friends, create a family of your own, and become your biggest supporter. You do your best to avoid environments that’ll revert you to a state that is harmful. Your priority is safety, comfort, and joy. While it’s difficult and not always guaranteed, you still try. You mourn the past. You build for your future. You keep your name even though some think it’s “too ethnic” when you apply for jobs. You research your family’s history, even though it’s sprawled out and you’re a mixed-person of two mixed-people, who are also children of mixed-people. While this new spot in your life feels safe and comfortable you challenge yourself to be resilient in case you are confronted with a situation in which you aren’t accepted, you will still be accepting of yourself. You forgive yourself for being susceptible to past criticisms, because you were a kid and malleable. You love yourself because you’ve grown into you and because you will continue to grow.